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Brown plea for ‘political interference’

Clinics row: Brown Ewart Brown claimed the One Bermuda Alliance was trying to force his business into closure (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Ewart Brown urged health minister Kim Wilson to “politically interfere” to ensure his clinics did not suffer financially in the wake of a One Bermuda Alliance government decision to slash fees for medical scans.

The doctor and former premier e-mailed Ms Wilson less than a month after the Progressive Labour Party swept to power last summer to complain about reduced fees for high-tech diagnostic imaging tests offered at his two clinics, such as MRI and CT scans.

He wrote: “The only way to right the wrongs heaped upon me, and others, by the OBA is to politically interfere.

“If the PLP does not use its power to do that and reverse the OBA in several areas, many of us will be left to the will of the civil servants, who will continue to advance the OBA agenda.”

Dr Brown threatened the Government with legal action over the fee cuts two months later.

A Cabinet-approved financial agreement granted the former PLP leader $600,000 of taxpayers’ money to compensate for his losses last December.

Dr Brown’s e-mail to Ms Wilson, sent on August 14, 2017, was revealed in correspondence released by the Ministry of Health to The Royal Gazette in response to a public access to information request.

Dr Brown asked Ms Wilson to reverse the fee cuts, which came into effect under the OBA in June last year after a recommendation by the Bermuda Health Council, then headed by OBA election candidate Simone Barton.

Dr Brown wrote that the fee cuts were “tremendous, unreasonable” and told Ms Wilson: “We cannot survive them.”

It is not known if the Minister of Health replied.

The e-mail is one of a string of messages Dr Brown sent to politicians and civil servants to complain about the fee cuts.

Ms Wilson told the House of Assembly, in response to parliamentary questions in February, that the cuts could be rolled back.

She said the two medical practices owned by Dr Brown, Bermuda Healthcare Services in Paget and the Brown-Darrell Clinic in Smith’s, were paid government “grants” of $480,000 and $120,000, respectively.

The minister said the payments were the Government’s attempt to “right a wrong” by the OBA after it reduced the fees, which hit Dr Brown’s clinics, as well as the Bermuda Hospitals Board, which she added would also receive compensation.

Shadow Attorney-General Trevor Moniz claimed there was no need to make the payments to Dr Brown.

He said: “It was purely, purely out of the will of Cabinet to pay someone to whom no money was owed.”

The Pati disclosure includes records that suggested the involvement of David Burt, the Premier and Minister of Finance, in ensuring the payments to Dr Brown were made after Cabinet had decided how to respond to Dr Brown’s threat of legal action.

Financial secretary Anthony Manders e-mailed Jennifer Attride-Stirling, the Permanent Secretary of Health, about the Cabinet conclusion on October 31 last year.

Mr Manders wrote: “We need to operationalise this conclusion now. The Premier has asked for an update and wants it operationalised by the end of the week.”

The details of the agreement were still being hammered out a month later, when the health minister wrote to Dr Attride-Stirling asking her to share technical information quickly and to get the Attorney-General’s Chambers “to write as per the Premier’s instructions”.

Mr Manders e-mailed Dr Attride-Stirling in December about “grants to BHB, BHCS, Brown-Darrell”.

He asked: “What is the plan for paying this? Premier is asking.”

The next day, the two senior civil servants e-mailed one another again about the payment to Bermuda Healthcare Services and agreed that the Ministry of Health would “execute” it.

The financial secretary asked Dr Attride-Stirling: “When can I tell the Premier when the first payment will be made?”

Mr Burt, as Minister of Finance, has power under the Public Treasury (Administration and Payments) Act to direct civil servants on the spending of public funds outside of expenditures approved by Parliament in the annual Budget.

Ms Wilson told MPs that once Cabinet decided to make the payments, the funds were released under that authority.

The Pati disclosure from the Ministry of Health ran to more than 300 pages, many heavily censored, but the agreement struck by Dr Brown with the Government was withheld, as The Royal Gazette reported yesterday.

Dr Brown’s clinics have been investigated by police over allegations they ordered medically unnecessary tests for patients to boost profits.

The allegations were denied by Dr Brown and he has never been charged with any offence.

He announced on January 12 that the CT unit at the Brown-Darrell Clinic would close at the end of that month and blamed the health council.

Ms Wilson said, two days later, that the Government had decided to “supplement the fees for MRI and CT services performed at all entities from government funds rather than raise residents’ health insurance premiums midyear”.

The health council insisted the fee reductions were needed to reduce health insurance premiums.

A government spokesman said last night: “The origin of the payments in question stem from the former OBA government ignoring the advice of their technical officers in what appears to have been a politically motivated economic attack on the former premier, Dr Ewart Brown.

“That decision to disregard the advice of professionals within the Civil Service, cost not only Bermuda Healthcare Services, but King Edward VII Memorial Hospital thousands of dollars and potentially exposed the Government to legal action.”

The spokesman insisted: “The action taken by the Government was wholly appropriate and taken to address an injustice that stemmed from the then OBA government’s failure to listen to experts within the Ministry of Health and their seemingly being more interested in political vendettas than in running the country in the interest of Bermudians.”

Dr Brown did not respond to a request for comment by the time of press.